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Catharsis: A Story of Reliving 1977



*DISCLAIMER: This story is entirely fictional. Any similarities to real life events or people is purely coincidental and not meant to provoke any negative reactions.

“There’s a letter for you on the kitchen counter,” my husband shouts to me as he picks up his car keys, “see you tonight, darling!” I routinely start up the coffee machine,  as I wave him goodbye, and pick up the small envelope. Casually, I open the letter with my teeth as I pick my favourite brand of coffee. However, when I see the watermark at the top of the page, I almost drop my mug. It’s from Bovensmilde. Within a split second all memories I have suppressed for years suddenly resurface. 41 years ago I was one of the 105 children victims of the 1977 school hijacking (Duursma, 2012). The letter brings me back to the fear I felt during those horrific few days. It changed my life forever, but I try to never think, or talk, about it now. Shortly after our release my parents moved away to the other side of the country. I never received any help to process what had happened to me at such a young age and at home we never talked about it. Just like the entire community and nation, we stayed silent. Shakily, I take a deeep breath to steady myself and continue reading. It’s an invitation for another commemoration. Every year I throw the letter away unopened, but I’m turning 50 years old this year. And, as my psychologist stressed: confrontation is necessary for healing. For another second I hesitate before I clear my schedule for the 23rd of May. I must be there this time. It is time for me to confront my past and see Bovensmilde again for the first time in decades.
Image result for bovensmilde gijzeling school
Picture of the hijacking in 1977 (Jan de Vries, Dagblad van het Noorden)
A week later, the evening before the commemoration, I step out of my car carefully. I walk through the town I had not visited for so long. It is scary, but I see I recognise more than I thought I would have. Crossing the street towards my old school, I see a surprisingly tranquil and peaceful place. Even so, the serenity of the green playground stands in stark contrast to the images and memories that are now flooding my mind at an alarming pace. Still I slowly continue my path over to the mosaic park bench in the middle of the field. I immediately catch sight of the text on the side of the monument: “Wij willen samen leven” ("We want to live together"). My throat closes up and tears start to well up in my eyes. My thoughts travel back to our childish voices tearfully begging the authorities to save our lives as we shout from the school windows. I stand there for a while, not immediately realising I am not alone anymore. “Hey, are you okay?” I look up to this new voice, but accept the tissue he offers me right away. I wipe away my tears clumsily as I apoligetically explain to him that I was one of the children held hostage in this school. He listens to me with an understanding look in his eyes. I suddenly realise, this is the first time I openly talk about my experiences to someone, who is not my husband. It feels good. After finishing my story, a comfortable and silence falls between us. He takes me around to the other side of the monument and tells me it has the shape of the old school building. I hadn’t noticed this before. The man sits down and invites me to join him. “I was a part of the hijacking too, you know,” he tells me. Now I notice he is indeed around my age and we talk some more about what we remember. He asks me, if I am also attending the commemoration tomorrow, since he is one of the organisers. I wonder, why they chose this location for the monument, because to me it still feels quite traumatic. “It’s an open place in the middle of the community,” he says, “the empty space in the town is also a metaphor for the empty space in the heads of the people involved.” It turned a horrific location into a communal place that invites people to come together and talk about what happened. A heritagescape (Gardner, 2006). “It is the opposite of what they told us back then. This is a healthier way of dealing with the past for both victims, perpetrators and the community as a whole.” I acknowledge this, since I feel it is already helping me confront my own suppressed trauma. Proudly, he shows me the part he made himself on the monument, also explaining that everyone worked together on the patterns. He points out the school bus, which was created by the principal at the time. It represents the relief he felt, when he saw the children leave the school building during the hijacking. 

The school bus on the mosaic bench in Bovensmilde (own picture)
We had talked for hours and it was getting dark. The streetlights had turned on in the meantime. “Do you have plans for dinner? You should meet my wife! She is also very involved in the commemoration project,”  the man kindly tells me as we stand up. I gladly accept his offer, for I had indeed not planned anything yet. As we walk away, I feel as if a weight has lifted from my shoulders. I now agree that confrontation is indeed healing. Monuments such as this one give emotions and memories, however dark, a place. We should never underestimate their importance. 
Sources:

Duursma, M. "Het verdriet van Bovensmilde." NRC.nl. 24 May, 2012, from https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2012/05/24/het-verdriet-van-bovensmilde-12319712-a1231238. 

Gardner, M. E. "The Heritagescape: Looking at Landscapes of the Past." International Journal of Heritage Studies 12, no. 5 (2006): 394-411.

BY: MD, AD, NH, TB

Comments

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  2. Beautiful story. Nice writing style and ideas for framing what happened. However in my opinion I think more mention of the first site and more elaboration of a vision for a Heritagescape was missing. I think we have to also be weary of using storytelling for academic purposes. There should still be a academic feel to the writing even though it is storytelling. I think we have to think about how we can use storytelling while still achieving what we set out to do academically and sometimes that can be lost!

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